College football: Cal's Jordan Kunaszyk achieves DI dreams
Amidst all the hard work being exerted at Kabam Field at California Memorial Stadium, sophomore linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk, a transfer from American River Junior College, stops and takes a second to take it all in at practice.
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Although he dreamt of being a Division I football player since he was six years old, the dream didn't become a reality as quickly as he had hoped.
After not receiving any offers from Division I schools following graduation from Roseville High School, Kunaszyk got an invitation to begin his collegiate career playing football at American River.
Instead of being frustrated by not playing at a Division I school as a freshman, Kunaszyk was excited to have an opportunity to still make his dream eventually come true.
After redshirting in 2014, he turned his determination into success in becoming a Freshman All-American, the Defensive Player of the Year in the NorCal Division of the California Community College Athletic Association and a first-team all-conference player in 2015.
That strong season got the attention of head coach Sonny Dykes and defensive coordinator Art Kaufman.
"The biggest thing was his mindset," said Kaufman. "He's all business, and he comes ready to work every day. He wants to be coached and he tries to be the best that he can be."
Kunaszyk's dream finally came true when he accepted an invitation to become a Golden Bear.
Tears of joy God is so great passed my final stats class.. Nothing stopping me now #berkeleybound— JK (@Jordankunaszyk) July 2, 2016
"Sometimes good things happen to those who do things the right way," Kunaszyk said. "It takes time. You have to be patient and trust the process. You have to put in the work, and that's what I did. It paid off."
After Cal lost six linebackers from the 2015 roster, Kunaszyk now not only has a spot on the 2016 roster, but he has the opportunity to make an impact immediately.
"We've been really pleased with what we've seen from Jordan thus far in camp," Dykes said. "He was a really productive player at the JC level, but you never really know how quickly those guys will pick things up. He's ahead of schedule. I've been really pleased with his progression. He shows up a lot. He's a big strong athletic kid with good instincts. We think he has a bright future."
Kaufman said he definitely feels like Kunaszyk can jump in right away and be somebody he counts on to contribute.
"The big thing was when we brought him in, we thought he could help us right away," he said. "His ability is going to give him a chance, but his attitude and his focus will give him a bigger chance to play earlier than usual for a first-year player."
Fellow linebacker Hamilton Anoa'i was Kunaszyk's host on his official visit, and the two connected right away, as Anoa'i said he was really impressed with Kunaszyk's drive to excel and improve every day.
It's the influx of players like Kunaszyk who inspire current Bears to stay motivated and to keep striving to improve.
"He's doing great, better than most guys who come straight in," Anoa'i said. "He's a good learner, always hungry for more knowledge. He's always telling me that he's watching extra film. I see it translate at practice. He's a smart player on his own. That's great for our linebacker corps to have somebody like that in the group and the team in general. It motivates us to push ourselves."
The idea of finally getting to play in a Division I football game when Cal plays Hawai'i in the Sydney College Football Cup on Friday, Aug. 26, still hasn't quite hit Kunaszyk.
He's still pinching himself to see if he's really wearing the blue and gold right now.
"That feeling of running out of the tunnel, I didn't think it would ever happen," he said. "It's been a dream of mine, and I can't imagine how it's going to feel to come out of that tunnel for the first time."
Playing in the Sydney Cup will be a special day for all the Bears, but it might be a little sweeter for Kunaszyk.